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May 2004
Nora's Hair Salon: An Interview with Jenifer Lewis & Tatyana Ali

By Niambi Sims

Nora's Hair Salon: An Interview with Jenifer Lewis & Tatyana Ali

Ever since "Barbershop" did very well at the box office a few years, there's been a slew of projects ready to come out that center on the same theme. This year alone we have already seen the sequel to Barbershop and coming out this Fall will be it spinoff film, Beauty Shop. But out of the gate first on DVD is Nora's Hair Salon directed by Jerry LaMothe. The film stars Jenifer Lewis as the owner of the salon, while Tatyana Ali plays one of her employees. Jenifer currently on TV's Strong Medicine and has played many supportive roles throughout her career, while Tatyan Ali (The Fresh Prince) was last seen in "The Brothers" and is working on next album. Both Jenifer and Tatyana spoke to blackfilm.com and shared their hair salon experience and the competition surrounding many beauty shop themed films.

Can you talk about some of your favorite beauty shop memories?

Tatyana: Going with my mom. I remember the smell of burn. That burn smell.

Jenifer: I don't have any beauty shop memories. I remember the barber shop. We didn't have a beauty shop as I grew up. My mother pressed my hair in the kitchen and put a brown bag on my hair and curled it. My mother's kitchen was the beauty shop. Saturday night is when my hair would be fixed up and that was my memory. My favorite memory in the barbershop was watching the hair fall. Little particles would fall and I would make designs out of it. I didn't like it on me. Everyone was very relaxed at the barbershop.

Did you ever experience a scene like when one of the customer's hair fell off?

Tatyana: This happened when I was in college. There was some sort of ball and I went into the salon and I didn't even change and I was like, "Oh my God, I could feel it now." She cut my hair off and I had short hair for a while, but I actually ended up loving it although I had to go somewhere else after she had butchered my head. I needed a change and it got me out of the funk I was in.

Jenifer: I've been burn when it comes to my hair that it ain't no joke. My favorite hair style was my afro. I loved my afro and I should get it back

What made you decide to co-produce this film?

Jenifer: I want to co-produce again. I didn't go into this film to do this. Once I got in there and realized that they were doing this it in 12 days, which is something I didn't know when I signed on; the film was shot in 12 days. I did what I had to do and my name was part of the credit. They were very nice.

What kind of things did you do?

Jenifer: Apart from being Jennifer Lewis. The name pulls people in. When Jerry LaMothe couldn't work, I had to be there cause Jena Claude (LeMarre) was doing something else. It was so rushed and much to do that I didn't have that kind of pressure on me anyway and I knew my name was on it. Let's just say that I did what I had to do.

How much pressure is there when you are the focal point of the film?

Jenifer: A lot and it's not easy. Sometimes I think I take on a lot of work but that's me. I'm in the moment. I'm always in the moment of life. It's important to e alive in those moment, especially when you're doing something you love to do.

Speaking of producing credits and amateur actors, how did Bobby Brown get to be in this movie?

Jenifer: I think they had Bobby Brown in the movie before I was even signed on.

Was that really Whitney Houston in the film?

Jenifer: Bobby was doing the film and I think he talked Whitney into doing it as well. Whitney and I go back to when we did "The Preacher's wife" and we had a really good relationship. So I asked her to make a little cameo and both of them were very professional.

How did he get a producer credit as well?

Jenifer: Sometimes if you have a name and he does have a name, you can pull strings and that's the bottom line. Your name will bring people to the box office.

Do you think it will at this point?

Jenifer: I think some people will pick that up if they see Bobby Brown and Whitney. People want to see them. Good or bad, people want to see them. America has a relationship with Bobby and Whitney.

What does having a credit really mean?

Jenifer: It means that you contributed to the producing of the film. Producing the product. Without Bobby there would have been no Whitney. What if Whitney was at her top, and we brought in a name like Whitney Houston, it would sell. The Preacher's Wife did. Come on, she's Whitney Houston and he's Bobby Brown.

What made you decide to do it?

Jenifer: Well, when I got it, it was a good script. It was cute. Look, it's a little movie with heart. I had not starred in an independent film and it's about a woman who owned a hair salon. Why not?

Was it always intended for straight to video or did it have plans for a theater run?

Jenifer: We never knew where it was going to go. You never know when you start a project just how good it can be. You never know at the beginning. Like I said before, I didn't know we would shoot for twelve days.

What was the budget for the film?

Jenifer: I don't know. I think $1.2 million.

With so many "Beauty Shop" themed films coming out, how important is it to be out the gate film first?

Jenifer: It's great. You don't know what the others are going to be. I have no idea. I was just as shock as anyone when I saw that write-up in Time magazine about Monique, Latifah, and myself. I thought it was wonderful because I never thought this would be a big box office hit anywhere. This is an independent film. I thought this would be fun to do on my hiatus and something constructive. I care about the characters in this movie. There are a lot of people you feel for in this movie.

Do you think beauty shops around the world are the cultural centerpieces in the community like they once were?

Tatyana: I think there are some that are.

Jenifer: I do. I still go to a salon where a gal does my hair, and I don't know if it's because I'm a celebrity but by the time I leave there, we are eating chicken and talking and screaming. It's still there. You are a black goddess when you come out the salon.

What sort of advice would you give to young girls coming up in this business?

Jenifer: Love it. That's very simple to me. If you don't love it, don't touch it. If you just want to be a star, go away. You have to be a star to be in this business. And I'm not talking being a "star". If you want to succeed, love what you do. If you can find something you love, go for it everyday of your life, and it would be really good to you. I believe that. That's no recipe, but it's certainly a main ingredient.

What's next?

Jenifer: "The Cookout" comes out on Labor Day. I'm starting my sixth season on "Strong Medicine" and "Shark's Tale" with Will Smith. I'm playing a Motown turtle.

Tatyana: I'm doing a play at the second theater, a musical and I'm working on my second album. The musical follows the Mamma Mia concept. It's my first L.A theater project so I don't know who else is involved. It started 2 weeks ago.

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